Lower Afghan House OKs Access to Information Bill

3 July 2014

The lower house of the Afghanistan parliament (the Wolesi Jirga) on June 30 approved an access to information bill.

Advocates say the body took into account some important recommendations from Afghan civil society organizations that have waged a three-year campaign for a law, but that the legislation still needs improvement.

Executive Director of Integrity Watch, Sayed Ikram Afzali, said, “We have analysed the law and compared it with other laws in the region and we can tell you that it has many strong points.”

He said the strong points include a clear time frame for providing information and a requirement for state entities to establish designated offices to provide information to the public on demand and proactively.

Afzali also said that the House bill has many weaknesses.

“There has to be a strong and independent commission overseeing access to information in practice and addressing public complaints,” he said. Specifically, the current legislation does not guarantee an independent mechanism to address public complaints and take action against those limiting public access to information. He called on the Upper House to improve the law before sending it to the president for final signing.

An Integrity Watch press release said further:

Civil society representatives echoed Integrity Watch’s call to improve the law addressing issues related to the independence of the information commission, inclusion of all private and public sector entities that receive public funds under the definition of entities, inclusion of all types of information under the definition of “information”, and dropping the mandatory application form.

Civil society at the event demanded that the Upper House take into account international standards of maximum disclosure, minimum exemptions, easy to use access and complaints procedures and finally clear penalties for officials limiting citizens’ access to information.

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